Sun, 26 Sep 2021

2021 training camp preview: Special teams

Detroit Lions
27 Jul 2021, 20:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

On the roster: Jack Fox (P), Randy Bullock (K), Matthew Wright (K), Don Muhlbach (LS), Scott Daly (LS).

Key losses: Matt Prater (K), Jamal Agnew (KR/PR), Miles Killebrew (led team in ST tackles in 2020).

Best competition: Return duties

The kicker and long snapper competitions certainly fit here too, but it will be really interesting to see who comes out on top in training camp among a number of players vying for the kickoff and punt-return duties.

The Lions lost one of the NFL's best return men in Agnew in free agency (Jacksonville), and that will be a big hole to fill in camp. Agnew was lightning every time he touched the ball. Can someone step up and fill his shoes?

Wide receiver Kalif Raymond, wide receiver Victor Bolden, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, wide receiver Tom Kennedy and safety D'Angelo Amos were a few of the players consistently back returning punts this offseason. Raymond was Tennessee's main return man last offseason.

Raymond, Bolden, Kennedy, and running backs D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams were among those consistently back returning kickoffs this offseason.

Will the Lions have the roster space for a designated return man or will it have to be someone like St. Brown or Williams that also gives them a boost on offense?

Twentyman's take: The Lions and Prater parted ways after seven years this offseason following a down year for Prater where he missed seven field goals (21-for-28) and three extra points (38-for-41).

In comes the veteran Bullock, was has made at least 80 percent of field goal attempts in every season since 2013. He'll have to fight off Wright, who went 4-for-4 kicking field goals in Pittsburgh last season in a fill-in role for the Steelers. This competition is usually one of the easier ones for coaches and talent evaluators to figure out through camp. Who puts it through the upright with more consistency and who handles the pressure better?

The Lions didn't even bother to bring in another punter. That should tell you how the team feels about the Pro Bowler Fox.

Muhlbach is entering year 18 with the Lions, and there's little sign of him slowing down outside of maybe the speed getting down the field and covering kicks. It will be hard for Daly to supplant him for the long snapper job.

The Lions also return a number of their really good special teams coverage men in Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Mike Ford, Jason Cabinda and others. The Lions should remain solid in the coverage aspect of things.

By the numbers:

3rd: Where Detroit finished in 2020 in the annual special teams ranking by Rick Gosselin.

8: Special teams tackles for Ford last season, which ranked second on the Lions behind only Killebrew (12). Reeves-Maybin and Cabinda were tied for third with seven ST tackles apiece.

25.6: Lions' average starting field position after a kickoff last season. That ranked 11th in the NFL.

49.1 & 44.8: Fox's gross and net punting average last year, which ranked third and second, respectively, in the NFL last season.

83.2: Career field goal percentage for Bullock (168-for-202).

Quotable: "Anytime I have two players (at same position) I tell these guys it's a competitive situation," Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said. "It's definitely competitive. It's going to be hard to beat out Don. He's obviously a great player and Daly's got his hands full.

"That being said, just like with everybody, we're looking at everybody out there, not just the guys on the roster but guys on other rosters. Some teams have two, who else is out there? So this game's always competitive, no matter who's on your own roster."

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